I’ve been here at Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery since the end of
December. Nestled in the hills of Mendocino County California,
the monastery is in the Thai Forest Tradition of Theravada
Buddhism. I’ve been visiting here since 2012, and continue to
return for the community and the abbot, Ajahn Pasanno.
Each year from the beginning of January to April 1st, the
community of monks and lay residents put their regular duties
aside (at least, mostly) and go on silent retreat. During this time, a
crew of volunteers arrives to take over the general duties of the
monastery; cooking, maintenance, oﬃce work, book requests,
etc.. I’ve been one of those volunteers for the last three months.
For those that read my blog last year from Tisarana, or my blog
from two years ago, it’s roughly the same scenario. A day in the
life of a retreat support member goes something like this….
Is it really 4AM already?
I crawl out of bed and get ready to start the day with morning
puja in the meditation hall. Since the monastery is located on a
hillside, I walk down the hill from the women’s building and up
and down another hill to reach where I need to go. It’s a ten
minute walk, which helps to add some wakefulness.
I quietly walk into the meditation hall after removing my shoes
outside, set up my seat, and bow to the shrine. It’s not as if I think
the shrine is actually the Buddha. I’m bowing to symbolism of the
awakened mind, the teachings that lead to it, and those who are
on the path.
At 5AM, the puja starts with chanting in Pali (the ancient language
similar to Sanskrit in which the Buddha’s teachings were
recorded) and English for about 20 minutes, then continues for an
hour of mediation. Afterwards I perform my morning chore which
is usually some sort of cleaning and checking messages, until the
bell rings for breakfast. It’s usually oatmeal, with the usual
After breakfast cleanup, my fellow crew members and I start the
day with our appointed tasks.
I’m in the kitchen today, and my job, with two other members, is
to prepare a meal for over thirty people in less than three hours
with whatever food is in the fridge and pantry. All the groceries
are donated, and there’s not always exactly what you want for a
particular recipe. It’s sort of like an episode of “Chopped”: You
have these ingredients. Make something good out of them in a
certain period of time. Thanks to the generosity of many donors,
and the skill of the cooking crew, it’s usually a pretty good meal.
After lunch and cleanup, the retreat schedule has varied,
sometimes with scheduled group afternoon meditation,
sometimes with free time to practice on one’s own.
Today there’s free time, and it’s not cold and raining (surprisingly
it’s been cold and rainy quite frequently, and we’ve even had
snow a few times), so a good time to take a walk. I slowly climb
nearly a thousand feet up to the nearby ridge, to observe the
damage caused by last summer’s ﬁres. The ﬁres came through
and destroyed much of the forests and the nearby town, yet the
monastery was mainly untouched. If you look for the monastery
on Google Earth, there are already updated photos showing the
extent of the damage.
At 6:30pm we meet for a question and answer period, or a
reading, and then evening puja at seven. It’s pretty much the
same as morning puja, with slightly diﬀerent chanting. After puja
is over, I walk back up the hill to the women’s section, and after
some reading, go to bed to do it again the next day.
The schedule is mostly the same. Every. Single. Day. One looses
track of time: What’s the date? What day of the week is it?
About once a week on lunar observance days we stay up
practicing until 3AM (if we’re not working the next day), and
during the retreat, the crew have regular days oﬀ. But the routine,
even though it’s not one I’d necessarily follow at home, is
somehow helpful. The mind comes up with enough things in
meditation (and in general) that provide all the “interesting” one
I’ve found some peace here, and space to hold what comes up in
life and in the mind. So for now I’ll stay here a while if the
community will allow me to do so, and see where life takes me.
I’ve volunteered to stay to help with the new library here,
something I had hoped two years ago that I’d be able to work on.
It means transferring the books to new shelves, reorganizing them
to a better cataloging system, and eventually entering the Library
of Congress information for all the books into a computer with
library software. No small task, since there are thousands of
books, but one I’ll enjoy working on.
I don’t know how long I’ll be here. I have a trip planned in June
and another in August, and hope to return here between them.
But I’m feeling easier about not having much of a plan, and just
being here now, every day, over and over again.
Be well and peaceful.